In the End is the Beginning

In the End is the Beginning

by the Rev. Kay Rohde, diocesan ministries development coordinator

Just a couple of weeks ago, I was on my way to the office and I noticed people standing all along the street, facing west, looking upward. I looked too and saw the Space Shuttle, Endeavor, fly across the sky on her farewell tour of California. Tears came to my eyes as I watched her on the top of the 747 slowly fly across the downtown area. I was surprised at the emotion that sight evoked in me. It symbolized for me the end of as era of space exploration. I remember getting up at 4 am with my family to watch the first space launch, Mercury 1, on a fuzzy black and white TV. With each mission we risked as we took another small step forward in our quest for reaching out beyond the safety of the known to see new possibilities; the first orbit, the first space walk, loops around the moon. Finally, the first steps on the moon and we saw our world in the vastness of space from a whole new perspective. But, now it is time to retire the shuttles and there is a little bit of sadness, and maybe even fear that the space program is over.

Perhaps some of us have similar feelings as we experience transition in our church communities. We have memories of packed pews, huge Sunday School programs, money in the bank to build a new parish hall. The church provided both a spiritual and social center for us. In today’s world of fast-paced change, the church “isn’t the same.” In some communities, the pews aren’t full. We don’t have youth. Our facilities are crumbling. We can’t pay for full-time clergy. No one has time for Sunday potlucks, much less a weekly study group. What will happen to us? Is the church finished?

The last flight of the Endeavor did not mark the end of our adventure in space. At this moment there is a Mars rover rolling over the Martian surface, taking pictures, gathering samples of rock and soil and data that it somehow records and sends back to Earth to be analyzed. The Hubble Space Telescope is continuing to send back pictures of galaxies and star nurseries that exploded billions of years ago. The first phase of human space travel may be ended, but we have found ways to continue to learn more about the universe beyond Earth.

Just as the space program has evolved new ways to reach farther than we ever imagined, so too are we discovering new ways to be church in the world today that will enable us to respond to future changes as well. If we have an understanding that the purpose of church is to be Christ’s heart and hands and feet in the world, then there is no minimum number of congregants that defines viable. If we believe that God has given each one of us gifts to use for His work, and together as a church we discern what God is calling us to be and to do in our communities, then the gifts needed to carry out that work will be found in the community. When we are able to see the real needs in our community through Gospel eyes, and get to work using those gifts we have finally claimed, then we will understand that the church is not a building. We will see endless possibilities.

The space program continues - in a different way. And so does the church!

3 comments (Add your own)

1. David Shewmaker+ wrote:
I agree most heartily, & have witnessed how listening intently & prayerfully to the Gospel can transform a community. If you think small is a problem, please come visit us any Sunday at St. Paul's in Crescent City. We have found that none of us can do much alone, but together we can truly be God's kingdom helpers.
My middle name is "Paul." I am such a physically large person that I always thought that name was ironic, since it means "God's little one." I have learned from the people at St. Paul's that to be small can mean to be concentrated Spirit. I mean, look at what "little" St. Paul did when he listened to the Word of God.

Tue, October 9, 2012 @ 11:47 AM

2. Jones Jo wrote:
A very thoughtful message. It reminds us that there was yesterday and it was quite different from today. And the today that we are experiencing will not be the same as tomorrow. We hopefully can learn from yesterday while experiencing the gift of today and look forward with hope to tomorrow.

Tue, October 9, 2012 @ 3:33 PM

3. Blake Leighton wrote:
There are some gifts in this transitional phase. For example, St. Michael's is having conversqtions with the local Trinity Lutheran church--each congregqtion can only afford a half-time clergy person--but what might we do together. I preside at the Eucharist once a month at the Lutheran church and it has been a very beautiful and informative experience.
I also tell folks that the Episcopal church is my home base, the floor--so to speak--on which I dance. But my "parish" is the whole coast community--in Buddhist words, caring for "every sentient being" here.
Thank you for your positive preaching on what the church might become as the present transition moves forward. We will not lose the good things from our past, going back to New Testament times and the early church and continuing through the centuries. And some of the gifts from our long past, that we kind of let go in the post WWII boom era, are surprisingly relevant to the future of religion/spirituality--and not just for those who call themselves Christian. Thanks again. Blake Leighton.

Tue, October 9, 2012 @ 3:38 PM

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